ACC Preview: Boston College’s Burning Question

Posted by Matt Patton on October 24th, 2014

Last place or not last place?

It’s not easy taking over a slumping program in a conference that just added three perennial Top 25 programs. It’s even harder when you can’t start until April and you lose your two of your three best players before you even take the job. That’s where Jim Christian stands a little over six months after replacing Steve Donahue. Perhaps his most important battle, though, was won when Olivier Hanlan decided to stay in Chestnut Hill. Hanlan’s presence — along with a graduate transfer and a healthy center — are the only reason this is a burning question at all.

Jim Christian needs to change the culture in Chestnut Hill (photo credit: Ted Fitzgerald/Boston Herald)

Jim Christian needs to change the culture in Chestnut Hill (photo credit: Ted Fitzgerald/Boston Herald)

Any look at Boston College this season has to start with Christian, a former coach at Kent State, TCU and then Ohio before coming to Chestnut Hill. He built a solid MAC program at Kent State, improving nearly every year while he was there. During his last year at TCU, he turned one of the worst programs in the country into a middling Mountain West team with a few solid wins (including one over Virginia). But there’s not much data from which to judge his time at Ohio, and he’s never coached in a major conference.

Ryan Anderson and Joe Rahon — last year’s team captains — both transferred. While Hanlan was the star, Anderson quietly put up some of the best numbers in the conference and Rahon ran the offense. Replacing both will be difficult, but may be doable. There are two possibilities in the backcourt that may answer whether the Eagles end up as cellar-dwellers. The first is to turn the offense into the Hanlan show. If he acts as the sole point guard, he’ll put up unreal scoring numbers. His efficiency numbers would dip, but he’s too good at drawing fouls to turn into a liability. The problem is that the Hanlan show likely won’t work over the course of a game, much less a whole season. Part of the importance of Rahon last year was keeping Hanlan off the ball so he could rest or work off screens and utilize his lightning-quick shooting stroke. That has to play into the offense. Look for Lonnie Jackson to be the secondary ball-handler this year. If he efficiently runs the offense, Boston College has a good chance of avoiding the bottom of this league.

Boston College needs more from the players around Olivier Hanlan to escape the basement in the ACC. (photo credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Boston College needs more from the players around Olivier Hanlan to escape the ACC basement. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

In the frontcourt, the answer is straightforward: a healthy Dennis Clifford and graduate transfer Aaron Brown. Clifford says he’s feeling like he’s at 100 percent, which he certainly hasn’t looked during the past couple of seasons because of nagging injuries. If that’s true, there’s a great deal of upside here. Clifford is a talented big, capable of playing with his back to the basket and crashing the defensive glass. He struggled with turnovers during his freshman season, but he’s stronger now even if still not very agile. Few college teams can effectively guard a seven-foot post player with offensive moves. Throw in Brown — a graduate transfer who comes from SMU and Temple — and there’s the making of a good offensive frontcourt. Brown isn’t used to being a primary option, but Clifford and Hanlan should leave him in a comfortable role. He’s also the only player on the team with postseason experience. The Eagles also return famed jumper Eddie Odio and Patrick Heckmann. Assuming Clifford is healthy, Odio should be free to act as the spark plug on this team. Heckmann is impossible to predict. After being the Eagles’ most important player during much of his freshman year, he got mononucleosis and missed a lot of time. Christian will need him to be more consistent this season.

Perhaps the most important question is where this team’s heart lies? Last year high expectations sparked by Hanlan’s ACC Tournament outburst (including from yours truly) tumbled to earth as quickly as the season started. By conference play, Boston College appeared to be going through the motions with Donahue — whose coaching strength does not lie in charisma — unable to right the ship. If Christian can change the culture within this program, there’s enough talent on this team to compete and finish in the #11-#13 range of the league standings. But with the talent that departed there’s also the chance of an even worse collapse, as the Eagles get leapfrogged by a Buzz Williams-inspired Virginia Tech team.

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